Adult-use cannabis legislation has yet to be formally introduced this year in the Pennsylvania Legislature, but the state’s medical cannabis program was expanded June 30.
Signed by Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf on Wednesday, House Bill 1024 allows qualified patients to legally possess up to a 90-day supply of cannabis, an increase from the previously allowed 30-day supply. It also permits patients to continue utilizing curbside dispensing services. Both changes were adopted in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, but the new law makes those provisions permanent.
In addition, H.B. 1024 removes the cap that one caregiver may only support a maximum of five patients and authorizes “synchronous interaction,” or physician-patient remote consultations that occur in real time via audio or video conferencing. The law also expands the qualifying conditions for eligibility to include cancer remission therapy, as well as spinal cord or central nervous system damage with “indication of intractable spasticity and other associated neuropathies,” according to the bill’s text.
According to the governor, the new law acts on the recommendations made by the Pennsylvania Department of Health to revise the Medical Marijuana Act, which was signed into law in April 2016.
“It’s been five years since Pennsylvania legalized medical marijuana, and in that time the Department of Health has examined the program’s successes and challenges and made important recommendations on improving the law,” Wolf said in a statement Wednesday. “This legislation provides important updates to our state’s medical marijuana program to ensure that patients have improved access to medication.”
More than 340,000 Pennsylvanians participate in the state’s medical cannabis program, according to the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML).
Pennsylvania’s regional organizer for NORML, Chris Goldstein, told The Associated Press that H.B. 1024, which was first considered in committee May 24, moved quickly and there were no hearings to gather input from patients nor their caregivers.
“The bill actually has a lot of provisions that are industry friendly, and most controversial is to allow remediation of mold in cannabis flowers by extracting it into new products,” Goldstein said. “I think that’s where patient voices could have been heard.”
Under the signed legislation, cannabis producers can remediate contaminants, like mold or yeast, to turn it into products that are not to be inhaled or ingested, such as topicals.
With an adequate supply, there are 125 medical cannabis dispensaries in Pennsylvania with product available as of June 30, according to data from the Pennsylvania Department of Health. Operating eight of those dispensaries, Ethos Cannabis was one of the first retailers to open—with its Allentown location—when state-legal sales began in early 2018.
“We are excited to see continued development and improvements to the Pennsylvania medical cannabis program,” Ethos CEO David Clapper said. “In particular, the expansion of the caregiver program is quite important to us. We have a current double-blind research project addressing the opportunity for medical marijuana to substitute for opioids for people with chronic pain conditions. The caregiver program allows us to expand our research efforts to a wider group of patients who can’t make it into a dispensary, and allows us to continue playing a role in the impact of medical marijuana in Pennsylvania.”
While the final version of the bill passed the House, 165-36, and the Senate, 47-3, in the Republican-controlled Legislature, the upper chamber voted to table Democratic Sen. Sharif Street’s amendment that aimed to allow qualifying patients 21 years and older to grow up to five plants at home for personal use. The amendment failed in a 29-21 vote.
In February, Street and Republican Sen. Dan Laughlin—who voted in favor of the home-grow amendment—teamed up to announce their collaboration on crafting an adult-use bill for this legislative session, but they have yet to formally introduce that bill.
Most provisions in H.B. 1024 became enacted immediately following the governor’s June 30 signing. However, the legislation gives the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture secretary 30 days to make public the list of pesticides that growers and processors can use. That list will be updated annually